Spring Cleaning

I like the shape of the garden, its forms and designs, in early spring. Many of the beds have perennial herbs, some are empty of anything but mulch and henbit. Every bed needs to be cleaned, the debris removed and the ground tilled. Currently the tiller isn't cooperating.
On the right side, where the yellow sticky tags are from last year, is a row of peas.
Every day I try to work on cleaning beds, piling up the dead plants from last year and hauling them out of the garden. I'll till most of the beds at least once before planting, adding some compost to the soil. I'll then top off the beds with a layer of straw for mulch and ground cover while the seedlings get established.
 The lower beds, above, were added last year. Some have cover crops to be tilled under. I'm planting several of the old garden beds with peas for cover crop, others with wildflowers. Hopefully there will be a lot of wildflowers this year in several places for the bees. And honey.
Looking up the hill under the power lines.
One major project for me this winter has been clearing space under the power lines to plant wildflowers. Matthew's bee hives are just to the left, out of the photo. I've ordered several pounds of wildflower seed from Wildseed Farms in Fredericksburg, TX for planting in this area. You can't tell it from the photo, but there's about an acre of open space.
Pretty uninteresting, just brush and grass that prevents the wildflowers from getting established.
It looked like this (above) last fall. I first burned the grass/brush in strips, small areas at a time so the fires wouldn't get away from me. Being up a hill and in a corridor of trees on both sides, there's always an updraft. I burned everything I could, then took my riding lawnmower and sort of brush-hogged everything I could. Then, with loppers and pruners, I cut everything else to the ground.
From top of hill looking downward. You can only see about half the meadow from here.
Because the area is all fescue and poverty grass, which isn't very useful to me, I am using an herbicide, called Ornamec. You may recall I try to be organic, and this product isn't. However, if I don't get rid of the perennial grasses, which are mostly non-natives, the wildflowers won't have a chance at getting established.

The good thing about Ornamec is you can spray the grass, and it only kills grass. It won't hurt the wildflower seeds that are coming up and you can spray right over the seedlings without any harm to them. Since I don't grow food crops in this area and the wildflowers are important to the bees, I decided that getting rid of the grass this year would go a long way in helping establish a wildflower area that should only need an annual mowing after this. (Wildseed Farms sells this product and recommends it for getting wildflowers established).

You can see, above, the tiny wildflower seeds are coming up. I've planted an assortment of liatris, poppymallow, oxeye daisies, coneflowers, Mexican hats, yarrow, poppies, larkspur, bachelor's buttons, butterfly weed, clover and lots more. Some are annuals that will reseed themselves, others, like the coneflowers, are perennials and will continue to grow and expand their area. Just 2 years ago this area was trees and brush, like you see on each side of the photos. After the power company brought their giant brush-cutting equipment and ground everything down, fescue, that mostly useless grass took over. Turning the area into a wildflower meadow seems like a better use of the area. I've tried planting wildflowers before, sowing directly into grasses without much result. This method of controlling grass the first year, as well as scratching up bare soil with a rake or tiller, or both, before planting the seed, will give better results.

In my fantasies, this is what I hope it will look like. It may not look that way, but hopefully it will be close. Once established, a yearly mowing or light cleanup should help keep it a nice wildflower meadow.

Back in the garden, I dug a bucket of parsnips. Adam planted them last August and we've had nice parsnips all winter. It's amazing how many people have told me they've never eaten a parsnip, and wouldn't know what to do with them. What a great vegetable, one of my favorites! Roasted, boiled, added to chicken pot pie, steamed and buttered, just about any way you cook them. I actually like parsnips better than carrots, cooked.
This is about half a 5 gallon bucket from just one row of parsnips. I have 7 more rows to dig!


Lavender and Sage Pruning

Funny how a few days of sunshine can affect work indoors. I have neglected the blog, gotten behind in getting writing deadlines out of the computer and to editors, all to work in the garden. My apologies to all who visit here. What I accomplished though, feels good. I burned 3 brush piles in the north pasture, planted 2 plots of wildflower seed for the bees and started garden bed cleaning. And, our first jonquils of the year are blooming!

The quince, too, are beginning as well as snowdrops and Oregon grape holly. Spring is tweeting in every tree bud, every bird house and in the garden, as well.
Quince flowers are just beginning to open.
The work, however, has been in the sage, lavender and thyme beds. February is not only the month for pruning grape and muscadine vines, but also the sages and sage-relatives. If you don't prune back those plants early in the year they will become leggy. The center of the plant dies and the long, sprawling limbs that may have rooted the previous year, will be the new plant. More often than not, the sprawling that all plants in the family share, means your mother plants die about every 3rd or 4th year. Prune them in early spring and they will live for years.

Here's a regular garden sage, about 15 inches tall and 20 inches across, before pruning.
Same sage plant with 60 percent of the height and width removed.
I prune back lavender, sage, santolina (both green and gray varieties) thyme, winter savory, hyssop and rosemary, cutting back by two thirds. Pruned this way the plants bloom better and produce lots of new growth with good flavor.
Lavender plants before pruning.
The one-year old lavender plants you see above are about 24 inches across and 18 inches tall.
Same plant, cut down to about 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide.
Thyme 'Orange Spice' before pruning.
Seen above is part of the thyme bed before I started pruning. 'Orange Spice' thyme, with its delicious scent and flavor, is next to a French thyme with a lemon scent (both are from Richters.com). Just like sage, lavender and santolina, these thymes will die out in the center if left to their own devices. Their flavor is enormously better when the plants are pruned back, the new growth having the most pronounced fragrance and flavor.
You can see how much I'm pruning this back, taking off probably 6 or 7 inches all over the plant.
Look how much smaller the thyme is in the photo than in the first thyme photo I posted. This is a happier thyme, not drooping to the ground and ready to start growing again.
Green santolina, if not pruned yearly, dies out within a couple of years.
Even with last year's drought, which killed several of my Helleborus, most of them survived and are blooming.


Rose, Herb of the Year 2012

Mint and roses are a good flavor combination.
Imagine roses and mint together in a salad of fresh greens. Add some raspberries, feta or blue cheese crumbles, some pecans and balsamic dressing. Now there's a salad!
Roses, pecans, raspberries, make a very tasty salad.
 You can find lots of my rose recipes on the Herb of the Year blog. Try the recipes for Valentine's Day.
Flower market in New Delhi.
I visited a flower market in New Delhi. Notice the long-stemmed roses on the right. Their stems are so long (between 28 and 30 inches) they almost reach the guy's waist. My friend who was with me bought one of the bunches - they're bundled 100 to a bunch - for $1. The prices get cheaper the later it is in the morning. Still, think what those premium grade long-stemmed roses would sell for in the U.S. on Valentine's Day! Just remember, don't eat roses from a florist, they've been heavily sprayed several times with chemicals to get them to produce those beautiful flowers. But you don't want to eat those chemicals.
Long-stemmed roses in Acapulco, Mexico.
Above, long-stemmed roses in the produce market in Acapulco. Because it's a tourist area with lots of hotels and restaurants, the prices are higher than in India, but still way below the cost in the U.S.

But if you have non-sprayed, edible roses, this cake is delicious. You'll find it and other recipes by searching older posts on this blog. Or all of my recipes are available in my How to Eat a Rose book, from my website. And see my video on what roses are safe to eat, here.

Enjoy those roses!

See my video about which roses to eat and which ones you should avoid. (If the rose has been sprayed, or is from a florist shop, don't eat those; otherwise, all roses are edible).


Barbara's Birthday

Barbara's birthday cupcakes.
February 7 is Josh's mother, Barbara Young's birthday. One of her favorite things to do is play bridge. She's a tough competitor and Josh invited 6 friends for lunch and an afternoon of bridge.
Barbara Young, 96 years young today.
The grandchildren (Chris and Erin, Erinna and Paul, Suzanna and Chad) sent Barbara a new Ceiva digital photo frame. They download photos every week of her great-grandkids so she can keep up with what's going on in their lives and their photos rotate through the Civa on her desk. Our friend, Cliff, brought 96 carnations and daughters Suzy Young and Carolyn, sent flowers and puzzles. Son, Richard, created a fantastic book of photos from Dingly Dell, the farm where they all spent their summers. I baked the birthday cake.
Barbara's computer and desk, with Cieva frame, next to the red arrow.

Some of Barbara's loot.
96 carnations.

One table of bridge, it looks very intense.
A few folks asked for the recipe for the cake so here it is. Be sure if you make it, taste the batter. It will make you wonder if you should eat it as a pudding and not even bake it! I started with a recipe I found on the Allrecipes website, then tinkered a lot with the ingredients. I believe this is an improvement on an already good recipe. Not being a huge fan of spice cakes, I was surprised how this has become one of my favorites. I chose to bake it as cupcakes this time for ease of serving, but it works well as a layer cake or a pan cake, too. The icing is light and not overly sweet.

Spice Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger (I like grated candied ginger better)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup milk
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup butter, softened (don't substitute with margarine)
2 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup black walnuts
1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and lightly flour 2 round cake pans, or one 9 x 13 inch cake pan. Or, 24 regular cupcakes with enough batter left for you to eat).

Mix dry ingredients in mixing bowl then add the milk, eggs, softened butter and brown sugar and mix until smooth. Stir in the black walnuts and raisins and fill the pans. If making cupcakes, fill to 3/4 full.
Bake until a knife or toothpick inserted comes out clean (about 40 minutes for 9 x 13 inch pan, about 10-12 minutes for cupcakes. Cool then ice with icing recipe below.

Spice Cake Icing
This is a fairly light, not overly-sweet icing for this or any carrot cake recipe.

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar

Combine ingredients in mixing bowl and whip for about 3 minutes with electric mixer. Spread on cooled cake.


Missouri Organic Association Conference St. Louis

When I am around gardeners and foodies, (or gardening foodies) I always learn something new. This trip to the Missouri Organic Association Conference is no exception. I've learned about new foods and new techniques both. An example. Black garlic. Do you know it? I'd read about black garlic but didn't have a clue what it's like or why I would want some.
Black garlic is soft, sweet and mildly garlic.
Black garlic fermented and the process turns the garlic black as well as giving it a soft, jelly-like texture. It's mild flavored, quite different from roasted or fresh garlic. The conference hosted 2 chef competitions, and in each there were several ingredients. The chefs didn't know in advance what would be available and they had an hour to put together a plate for each of the 4 judges. In one of the 2 competitions, black garlic was a surprise ingredient to be used.
Josh Galliano, a chef from a St. Louis restaurant was the moderator of the chef challenge.
Local food experts judged each dish in both rounds of competition.
 The judges, seated, are 4 food writers and food critics. They tasted and rated each of the several presentations from the chefs. In both round 1 and round 2, the chefs were given a set of ingredients, chosen by Chef Galliano but not known to the chefs before the competition. Each chef and one helper had 60 minutes to turn the ingredients into an award-winning presentation.
Tilapia, sunchokes and black walnuts were the primary ingredients in round 1.

The first round had 3 ingredients, which were: tilapia, Missouri black walnuts and sunchokes. There were additional ingredients available, including fennel, spinach, onions, shallots, etc. but the primary 3 ingredients had to be used in the dish.
The tilapia was pan-seared. The black walnuts were part of the sunchoke hash with bacon.
One of the entries in the first round from one team was a sunchoke hash (you know this ingredient as Jerusalem artichoke, chefs call it sunchoke) of stir-fried chokes, onions, garlic, bacon and orange juice. The tilapia was pan-seared and accompanied by flash-fried spinach with a fennel sauce.

What an amazing chopper. Chefs get to use the coolest tools!
The second new thing I learned about was this amazing professional food chopper. It has a little bowl and a motorized handle with different attachments. Way better than a food processor because you can switch bowls. It took 2 seconds to pulverize the steamed sunchokes into a sauce.
Josh interviewed the chefs as they worked. A high school boy, also Josh, photographed.

Husband and wife team took first place with their well-presented dishes.
 This husband and wife chef team had the winning dish in the second round of competition. Not only was it (probably) tasty...not being one of the judges I had to guess, but it looked really good.
This was a beautiful presentation of walnut-encrusted tilapia.
Their walnut-encrusted, pan-seared tilapia was served in small portions over a white barbecue sauce made with the sunchokes and garnished with carrots and baby spinach leaves with an orange-fennel dressing.

This little smoker gave the pork loin just a hint of applewood smoke on the outside.
And the third thing I learned about was this single-plate smoker. I knew they existed but I had never seen one in action. You can see the chef is lighting something on the top of the smoker. It's a tiny barrel, like you would find on a pipe. This one contains about a teaspoon of applewood slivers. The air is "inhaled" into the pipe, which has a tube running (to the left) into a metal cover in the bowl. Under the cover was a pan-seared tenderloin. The idea is to give the meat a mild smoky flavor on the outside rather than a smoker that in throughout the meat.
The black garlic sauce brought all the flavors together and was delicious.
The result was this pork loin, mildly smoked on the outside, served over carmelized onions and I don't know what was on the right side of the plate. But the black sauce in the middle? That's black garlic sauce. I tasted the sauce as well as the loin and I can honestly say it was hard not to grab a big piece and run. I believe this team won the second round with this entry, as well.
Attendance at the conference wasn't as high as the organizers had hoped but it is an excellent conference, nonetheless. There were over 60 vendors in the trade show and 72 speakers. I gave my Edible Landscaping program (I call it, "Plow up the lawn and plant something useful") and I'm taking one of my tropical plants I brought from Florida over to Illinois to my friend Joe tomorrow.

Good night from St. Louis.